If you run 5K races or attend charity events, you probably have a drawer full of “gimme” shirts — advertiser-laden jerseys tucked into event goodie bags, of a quality high enough to wear to the gym or in the garden. But a logo tee’s value to its sponsor (in exposure) and you (in non-exposure) is pretty miniscule, particularly when it sits in that drawer.

Imagine instead a gimme bicycle, a high-value item that provides a more eye-catching display for its sponsor and greater usefulness to the recipient. To make that effective as an advertising platform, all you’ve got to do is solve that drawer problem. A UK company called Buzzbike seems to have figured that out — and figured out how to cut down on pollution and congestion while they’re at it.

Here's how it works: Buzzbike provides free use of a bicycle to London cyclists in exchange for the right to use said bike as a rolling advertising platform. Programme applicants put down a £100 deposit — which is refundable upon the safe return of the bike at the end of a 1- or 2-year agreement. The agreement includes a committment to ride the bike to work at least 12 days each month and park on the street (with allowances made for inclement weather — this is London, after all).

“Buzzbike really comes into its own with scale,” says Tom Hares, a former Apple internal advertising head who cofounded the company with corporate strategist Andrew Nunn. “[It has] the power of making an impact across a city with a substantial number of bikes.” Buzzbikes are tethered to an app that tracks both usage and where they are parked.

Buzzbike starts, intelligently, with a bike that people would actually want to ride. It’s a single-speed commuter designed by Cooper (they of the original Mini and 60 years of other designs, and also a Buzzbike investor). It has a steel frame by Reynolds, puncture-proof tyres, and a saddle made in Britain by Brooks. The agreement also provides a Hiplok Gold bike lock, integrated lights, an annual service, and insurance for public liability and theft. “So all that’s left to do is ride,” says Hares.

We have a passion to build the largest urban cycling community, and therefore it’s much better that our members are engaged with the brands who support the free bikes.

Who gets to ride is rather tightly controlled at the moment. “The key criteria when signing up is the rider's home and work post code,” says Hares. “This allows us to identify where the bikes will be parked in the day and the routes they will likely travel, which we’ll then match to where the brand supporter want to be seen.” The first big launch is for 200 bikes in the East End neighbourhood of Shoreditch with branding for online payment platform Braintree. (Additional roll-outs are planned in 2017, and until then Buzzbike is offering equity investments through Crowdcube.)

But there are other criteria, as well. “We have a passion to build the largest urban cycling community, and therefore it’s much better that our members are engaged with the brands who support the free bikes,” says Hares. That may mean targeting riders by age or interests, and offering them tangible perks. “Much more likely to be free coffees than adverts,” he says. To keep riders riding, the app will “provide the rider with relevant motivational information like the amount of money they have saved versus taking public transport and fun badges, and rewards like the ‘rainy day badge’ for riding through the bad weather or ‘5 in a row’ for riding to work every day in a given week. Brand supporters can also incentivise riders using the app, such as offering perks or discounts for regular use, for example. Essentially our technology allows us to reward the rider the more they ride.”

Each bike will be outfitted with a Bluetooth beacon, which will not only seamlessly connect with the app, but allow parked bikes to interact with passers-by if they have an app from the brand supporter installed on their phone. “It’s the same technology that’s been utilised in other static outdoor media spaces like bus shelters,” notes Hares.

Whether or not those passers-by benefit from a discount beamed from beneath the Brooks saddle of a Buzzbike, if this advertising model catches on, they’ll benefit from cleaner air and less congested streets — at least in the more stylish neighborhoods of London.

If you would like to comment on this or anything else you have seen on BBC Autos, head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter. And while you're at it, join the BBC Autos community on Instagram.

And if you liked this story, sign up for the weekly bbc.com features newsletter, called “If You Only Read 6 Things This Week”. A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Autos, Future, Earth, Culture, Capital and Travel, delivered to your inbox every Friday.